The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes 2016

Australia’s most extraordinary art event is back!

The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes is an annual exhibition eagerly anticipated by artists and audiences alike.

The Archibald Prize, first awarded in 1921, is Australia’s favourite art award, and one of its most prestigious. In establishing the prize, JF Archibald’s aim was to foster portraiture as well as support artists and perpetuates the memory of great Australians. The Archibald Prize is awarded annually to the best portrait, “preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia”. Over the years some of Australia’s most prominent artists have entered and the subjects have been equally celebrated in their fields.

This year’s Archibald Prize has been awarded to Louise Hearman for her portrait of Barry Humphries.



Hearman won $100,000 for her oil on masonite painting of the 82-year-old comedian, satirist and actor. As she accepted the prize for the work titled ‘Barry’, Hearman said the portrait had taken several years to make. “Every feature on this painting has been in a different place at some point and it took me several years to make it,” she said. “I had to keep waiting for Barry to come back from overseas to Australia, and I had to go up to his face, look into his eyes and try to work out what colour they were.”

Hearman said Humphries, known for his alter ego characters Dame Edna Everage and Les Patterson, was a very difficult person to paint.

“I hope I kept him open, like he wasn’t one thing or another,” she said. “He’s all things at once.”

Hearman also added that the local industry had been difficult for artists in recent years. “Life in Australia has been pretty ragged for visual artists in the last few years, so now I’m back in the black,” she said. “It’s sad that so much great talent in Australia has to leave this country to make a living from what they do. I love Australia, I want to stay here, I want to work here, and this prize will really help me do that.”

2016 is a strong year for female artists as curator Natalie Wilson said that half of the finalists are women. She added that the “women have won all of the prizes this year, the Archibald, the Wynne and the Sulman prizes. It just shows that there is no difference in women and men when it comes to the arts.”

The Wynne prize was established following a bequest by Richard Wynne, who died in 1895, and first awarded in 1897, in honour of the official opening of the Gallery at its present site. The prize is awarded annually for ‘the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours or for the best example of figure sculpture by Australian artists’.

The Wynne Prize this year was awarded to five sisters from the Ken family – Tjungkara Ken, Yaritji Young, Freda Brady, Maringka Tunkin and Sandra Ken – who live in the remote Aboriginal community of Amata in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, with their collaborative painting.



Their work ‘Seven Sisters’ is about family protecting and teaching each other. It tells of women being chased by a bad man but being protected by their elder sisters. The Ken family explained that they “have also included the tjala (honey ant), which refers to our country. When we work together as a family we are learning from each other and teaching each other. Our family is strong because we teach all our young women this important tjukurpa (the force which unites Anangu with each other and with the landscape)”.

Established within the terms of Sir John Sulman’s bequest, the prize was first awarded in 1936. The Sulman Prize is awarded for the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project by an Australian artist. A genre painting is normally a composition representing some aspect or aspects of everyday life, and may feature figurative, still-life, interior or figure-in-landscape themes. A subject painting, in contrast, is idealised or dramatised. Typically, a subject painting takes its theme from history, poetry, mythology or religion. In both cases, however, the style may be figurative, representative, abstract or semi-abstract. A mural is a picture fixed directly to a wall or ceiling as part of an architectural and/or decorative scheme.

This year Ester Stewart won the Sulman Prize for ‘Flatland Dreaming’, which takes its title from Edwin Abbott’s novel Flatland: A romance of many dimensions, a 19th-century satire that drew a comparison between dimensional geometry and Victorian social mores.


Stewart said that she is “interested in exploring domestic spaces through the dimensions of abstraction. Inherently, when representing domestic spaces, questions about gender, socialised gender roles, ownership, hidden histories, privacy, and personal and cultural identities are present”.

The trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW judge the Archibald and Wynne, and invite an artist for the Sulman. Finalists are displayed in an exhibition at the Gallery (although in the early years all entrants were hung). Although it is a non-acquisitive prize, several of the entries are now part of the Gallery’s collection.

In its 95th year, the annual Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes will be on exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from from 16 July to 9 October 2016.


Art Gallery NSW, n.d., Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes 2016. Available from: [19 August 2016].

Art Gallery NSW, n.d., Esther Stewart: Flatland Dreaming. Available from: [19 August 2016].

Art Gallery NSW, n.d., Ken Family Collaborative. Available from: [19 August 2016].

Hunjan, R & Marks, L 2016, ‘Archibald Prize 2016: Portrait of Barry Humphries by Louise Hearman wins’, ABC, 15 July. Available from: [19 August 2016].

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